By Julie Kang
Michael Loumeau bit into the sprinkle-covered Birthday Cake doughnut he and his girlfriend bought from Beacon Doughnuts, a shop located in a Lincoln Park alley. He immediately fell in love and decided to film a clip to post on TikTok, eager to show off the hidden gem. The video got over a million views.
“[After our TikTok] they went from no one in line … to 40 people waiting in the alley for their doughnuts every day,” Loumeau said. “They couldn’t keep up with demand.”
Loumeau, a 28-year-old social media consultant at Allstate, co-runs @bestdatefood on Instagram and TikTok with his girlfriend, Aly Bainbridge, 26, who works in corporate banking as an associate portfolio manager. In 2016, the two created the Instagram account to keep track of their dates, almost like a memory book, as Bainbridge calls it. Over 41,000 fans follow them. Then in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many restaurants, they started their TikTok account, also called @bestdatefood, with more than 165,000 followers and 2.4 million likes.
Loumeau and Bainbridge met through a business fraternity in college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in fall 2013. Two years later, on their first official date, they ate calamari and lasagna at a romantic Italian restaurant.
“Sharing food on dates came to be a habit of ours as we enjoy planning our courses together and having a shared experience while dining,” said Bainbridge, who praises Loumeau’s “talent in telling a story.”
Loumeau majored in marketing in college but taught himself to shoot photos and videos.
“Anybody can be a creator these days,” Loumeau said. “We wanted to be creative, and we wanted to ultimately share [our passion] with other people. So you really don’t even need experience [with photography or film.]”
Loumeau said he doesn’t follow a specific set of criteria in choosing places to post on the accounts. He and Bainbridge try to go to a variety of places that are fun and quirky, from big restaurants to small businesses.
“We often get a lot of places reaching out to us, and you might see other influencers post straight-up ads and promote products on their pages,” Loumeau said. “We really try to stay away from that and focus on local cool spots and … unique spots. Beacon Doughnuts was a good example of that.”
Loumeau and Bainbridge stumbled upon Beacon Doughnuts during a bike ride last July. When they arrived at what they thought was Maison Marcel, no one was in line — and a sign read Beacon Doughnuts.
After the TikTok Loumeau posted went viral, the shop reached out to @bestdatefood on Instagram, thanking them and asked them to give them a heads up if they ever visited again. The next time the two stopped by, they received a few doughnuts and two T-shirts.
Although @bestdatefood will occasionally accept paid partnerships — which they disclose — Bainbridge said being authentic and sincere with their content is very important to the couple.
Loumeau particularly likes to see small restaurants grow and finds it fulfilling when he and Bainbridge can promote the ones they love.
“We often get great feedback from business owners about how thankful they are,” Loumeau said. “During this very difficult time, it’s even more rewarding to help keep struggling businesses in business.”
Julie is a magazine reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @_juliekang.